School Hair Guidelines Spark Ferocious Debate

Many say Narvie Harris Elementary focused unfairly on black hairstyles
By Neal Colgrass,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 3, 2019 11:30 AM CDT
School Hair Guidelines Appear Online. Facebook Explodes
A screen capture of a report on the poster at Narvie Harris Elementary school in Decatur, Georgia.   (YouTube)

A Georgia elementary school is in the spotlight after putting up a poster showing "appropriate" and "inappropriate" hairstyles—all for black students, CNN reports. An image of the poster appeared on Facebook and sparked about 2,000 comments about dress codes, hair, and the possible racism of focusing on black students at Narvie Harris Elementary in Decatur. "It feels like it's discrimination. There are only black kids up there, and those are basic styles in the black community," says hairstylist Danay Wadlington, who posted the image Thursday after a Narvie Harris parent shared it with her. "It's something that needs to be talked about. The outrage, I think, is warranted." But there's more:

  • The school: Other commenters note that Narvie Harris is a theme school (something like a charter school) and is allowed to mandate dress code. And the student body is 95% black, per the New York Times.

  • The code: "You had to have a particular whatever your shirt color, your pants color, your shoes color," a former Narvie Harris student tells Fox 5 Atlanta. "No they did not specifically dictate your haircut. But I can see that looking at it as a distraction."
  • The history: A few parents, including the school's PTA president, tell WSB-TV that the school has had hairstyle and appearance rules since it began 20 years ago. Yet the DeKalb County School District's dress code—which mentions tattoos, piercing, jewelry and clothing that could "disrupt the educational process," per CBS News—doesn't touch on hairstyles.
  • 'Racial profiling': Any black-hair restrictions are likely to reignite debate over discrimination against black hairstyles. An Atlanta educator tweeted in response that "racial profiling is still present. Imagine being a black boy greeted by this. Sadly, this shows systematic bias against Black boys..."
  • 'Still humiliating': The fact that it's a mostly black school didn't sway everyone. "Black people can still be anti-black," says a Twitter user. "It's still ridiculous, still humiliating. May even be more painful coming from folks who 'should' know better."
  • The restrictions: What hairstyles were forbidden? Designs cut into the sides of students' heads and mohawks, per the Atlanta-Journal Constitution. Cuts that went evenly across the head were considered OK.
  • 'Sensitivity training': The school took down the poster Thursday, the same day it went up. "Directives have been given to school administrators," says the district in an email. "Sensitivity training has been scheduled and will be held at the school."
(Read more hairstyle stories.)

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